Time constraint fueled my creative action — a 1-hour design sprint and my client is happy

Earlier today, my client asked me:

“I have a client who is asking about services. Do you think the brochure my last translator made is professional enough to share?”

My client is a US academic consulting company extending its market in China, and I’m a designer from China. Since the original materials are all in English, and some (in fact, lots of) their clients only read in Chinese, they need to translate the original materials. In the past, the translator took care of creating simple flyers and banners as well, so my client had this question today after she’s changed a translator.

I took a quick look at the brochure my client sent me — a flyer illustrating different service packages, and discovered a couple of issues to be fixed in the translation. My strategy for my client’s translated materials is to keep accurate, flowing naturally and elegant (“信达雅”, a standard in English-Chinese translation) to build a consistent brand image, because our goal of branding design is to let people know my client is professional and trustworthy.

Now both my client and I had no access to the original design document of that brochure, and the deliverable’s format is a JPEG, so the only way to fix the translation issues is to create a new one. Since my client’s client was asking about it, they obviously are waiting for this. So if I do, I must do it real quick. And so I said to my client:

“If you have 1 hour before sending it, I’ll make a new one for you.”

My client was very happy about it, so I started.

Photo by Mia Baker on Unsplash

In my initial plan, I thought of a design thinking process for my client’s overall branding, which is to define my goals, empathize with target audience, ideate, prototype, test and finalize. And creating brochures is at a relatively late stage. But now I have only 1 hour, I must move really fast. And I want to ensure a high quality of my work, as I always do; so today, I encouraged myself to be creative about my process: make fast design decisions while still being user-centered.

Goal

My goal for this super agile design project, is to create a professional brochure in 1 hour, while fixing the translation errors and convey the brand message.

Empathizing

Obviously… no time for target audience interviews or even surveys. My only question was asking my client:

“Is the client a parent or a student?”

My client has two types of clients: 1) students, the high school or college students who are applying to undergraduate or graduate programs in the US; 2) the applicants’ parents.

The two groups of people have different visual preferences. The students, 15–21 years old, prefer brigher color and more dynamic patterns; while the parents, 38–50 year old, prefer lower saturation and more calmness in the visual to have trust in the brand.

Since settling a visual design scheme is a few days away in my initial plan, today I’m free to use any visual style as long as my client doesn’t hate it. And I know my client loves bluish green, and purple-orange pairs. Then I want to make sure the visual style works for the target audience.

My client told me it’s a parent. And so I moved to my next step: choosing a template.

Ideation

Ideally, I’d create paper sketches for my design, vote for the best ones, digitalize them, and assist my client to choose the most suitable one. But today I have only 1 hour, and I want to build upon tools that already exist. So I decided to use a template on 58.pic, where I’ve subscribed a premium membership — normally, I would not use a template, because I want to ensure individually tailored design for my clients.

My ideation now became choosing the right template. I had my design goal in mind, and the user in mind — a parent who cares about their children’s academic future, wants to know the details of the services, and we want to have their trust.

I browsed through my search results of “flyer” in “Adobe Illustrator” format, and hit “Command” key plus my mouse’s left key to open templates in new browser tabs. These are my initial “drafts” of my design today (technically, not drafts I created, but their role equals what I do in a normal design thinking process, and I call them so today).

When I have 8 browser tabs opened, I decided to stop browsing. 8 is already more than 5, and by having 5, I’m more than 80% close to my goal — a lesson I learned from usability testing experience. Now I’ll do voting on my drafts, in the form of downvoting — closing the browser tabs when I find I love the template less than others.

Finally, I had only one browser tab open, and I downloaded the template. That’s where I started to iterate my prototype.

Prototyping

While downloading the template, I’ve had my content strategy ready — by translating the original English copy into Chinese in a Word document.

Content strategy in my 1-hour design sprint

Because I only need the text, I don’t have to worry about the format in this Word document, so I went with the default typeface and font size.

Although in a crazily short time, I still managed to do some UX design to the content. I noticed that in my client’s original material, there are lots of “yes”s and “no”s in the spreadsheet, which can definitely be made more glanceable — by replacing them with check marks (equals “yes”) and crosses (meaning “no” in Chinese). I did the replacement while translating.

Now my copy was ready, I started to put them into the template I chose, and here on Adobe Illustrator, I needed to make a decision about the typeface. I wanted to ensure beautiful Chinese characters, and I wanted low cost for my client, so I went for the open source font Source Han Sans.

The main content of the flyer is a price table, so a default table style came to my mind almost immediately: a colored background for table header, and a slightly colored background for every other row, a table style we always see in Microsoft Word.

Microsoft Word’s table style

Now I’m in a design sprint, and I wanted to create something fast, so I decided to use this type of table style, which didn’t require me much extra effort.

Next, I started to put the copy into my Illustrator file. When I came to the crosses and check marks, I asked myself: is there a fast way to make them more visually appealing?

The not-visually-appealing check marks and crosses

Yes, there is. I opened up Flaticon, which I also subscribed a membership, and dragged to Illustrator the SVG files of my favorite choices of search results on “cross” and “tick”. Normally, I’d scroll down to browse more icon styles; but today I’m in a sprint, I just went for the above-the-folder.

I put things together in the file, totally trusting my eyes to adjust the distance of elements — normally, I’d use a grid system, and sometimes create a rectangle to move around as a ruler. But today, I chose not to pursue 99% perfect (100% perfect is impossible), because I know from 95% to 99% perfect takes exponentially more times of effort. Today I just went for 95% perfect.

Here’s what my final Illustrator file is like:

Usability testing

57 minutes passed now. I exported my design as a small PNG file and sent it to my client on WeChat. When I finally export it as a deliverable, I’ll choose a higher definition. But now my client doesn’t read Chinese, and the focus I’m making sure with her is the visual design, I made the file smaller so she receives it faster.

“Do you like it?”

I asked. This is my usability test. If my client liked it, my work is almost finished. If not, I’ll ask why and then adjust my design.

My client likes it. Now I completed my prototyping, and went on to deliver.

Delivering

The target audience is a parent in China. According to my observation, lots of people in China between 38–50 don’t have a PDF reader on their computer (if they use a Windows computer, which is again most people in this age range do). So I needed to export an image format in case the parent couldn’t open PDF. Yet I still exported a PDF as well, because the file size is smaller, so it’s easier to distribute — in case the parent could open a PDF.

Though I already exported to the smallest file size possible while ensuring high definition, I still compressed my files through ILovePDF and TinyPNG to make them even smaller. The smaller, the easier it is for my client’s clients.

The outcome

My client was very happy and used the new flyer right away. I’m also happy because I completed one more challenging task.

Retrospective

In Creative Confidence, a book I really love, written by Tom Kelly and David Kelly, they said:

Constraints can spur creativity and incite action, as long as you have the confidence to embrace them.

In my design sprint today, I made a lot of quick design decisions, and I moved faster than ever on my design project. It’s really not doing it in spite of time constraint — it’s because of the constraint. Because I had limited time, I forced myself to move fast, and opted for the default for a couple of things. It worked because oftentimes, the default is what our audience is comfortable with, and conveys messages efficiently. Also, the time constraint stops my perfectionism from slowing me down.

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